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“I Never Knew it Would Come to That” the Eternal Excuse of Participants and Bystanders

Jewish Men being Rounded Up in Baden with Citizens looking on  

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”  These words from his book Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945 serve as a warning to members of a society where various minority groups are being labeled as enemies of the state and often less than human.

Over the past week we have watched as a rabid Trump supported sent pipe bombs to a dozen men and women who the President has personally attacked in speeches, interviews, or on his Twitter account. We have watched as a White man gun down two Black senior citizens in a Louisville, Kentucky Kroger store after failing to gain access into a Black Baptist Church. We have watched as a hate filled anti-Semite kill eleven Jews, mostly senior citizens in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, we watch as the President turns a caravan of Honduran refugees, mostly women and children, nearly 1,000 miles from the US border into a terrorist caravan full of MS-13 and ISIS killers.

The President blamed the intended victims for the actions of a very real terrorist who happened to be one of his most stalwart supporters. He ignored the racially motivated murder of Black senior citizens. He made jokes about having a “bad hair day” within hours of the massacre at Tree of Life on his way to a political rally where he again excoriated the press and his political opponents blaming them for the violent acts of his supporters or men who have fully bought in to the President’s racial conspiracy theories.

Many people wonder how this can happen, but it happens all too easily. All that is needed is a population that has been conditioned by propaganda, based on historical myth, untruth, a prevailing climate of fear, and in which the threat of crisis, real or imagined, can delude even good, able, and even extraordinary people to commit crimes that if they were not real, would be incomprehensible to the mind.

In such times decisions have to be made, difficult decisions, the decision to stand for what is right, even if the country’s leaders, and their most vocal followers threaten violence and the use of government force against those who dissent.

Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who survived Auschwitz wrote, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” 

The excuse of just following orders has been shown to be no excuse. Men and women who follow such orders under a thin veneer of technical legality will be condemned by history. The men of the Wehrmacht who gave logistic, communication, and security support to the Einsatzgruppen that were committing genocide in the Soviet Union were as guilty as the trigger pullers.

Genocide begins when those who know better turn their backs on crimes committed against a few. The last lines of the classic film Judgement at Nuremberg are illuminating when it comes to understanding men and women who do just that. In the film, Burt Lancaster playin the convicted Nazi judge Janning asks Judge Heywood played by Spencer Tracy to visit him. In that closing scene Janning implored Heywood to understand that he never believed that things would go so far.

Ernst Janning: “Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!”

Judge Dan Haywood: “Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”

Being a perpetrator is one thing, but being a bystander is worse. As Hannah Arendt noted: “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil. 

Until Tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Meeting Old Friends in Eisenach

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a long day so tonight’s post is basically to check in. We left Wittenberg this morning after a nice visit to meet our friends Gottfried and Hannelore in the town of Eisenach for Judy’s birthday which is tomorrow.

On the way we stopped at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp outside of Weimar. It was another sobering visit to a site where man’s inhumanity to man remains fully on display. I will write more about that later and may combine what I write with my observations at Flossenbürg which I visited Thursday.

We arrived at the hotel shortly before they did about 3:45 and we spent the afternoon and evening conversing and reminiscing over dinner and drinks. Our friendship with them is special, we have known them since early 1985 when I was a young Army First Lieutenant stationed in Wiesbaden Germany. We got to know each other through the partnership program between the 68th Medical Group and Sanitäts Regiment 74. Gottfried, who had worked himself up through the enlisted ranks to become an officer was also a First Lieutenant and the Officer in Charge of a Medical Clinic in Mainz.

Over the years we have managed to stay in touch. We have seen their children grow up and have kids of their own. We know Hannelore’s brother and many of their friends. They are like family to us. Tomorrow we will have breakfast with them and then go over to see the Wartburg Castle where Martin Luther was hidden by his supporters after his defense at the Diet of Worms, an where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German. After that we will each head our separate ways, they to their home where they are dealing with repairs to their own home as well as the disposition of the home and business Hannelore’s aunt who died in April. We will drive to Berlin where we will remain until Tuesday.

We will get some pictures posted of the visit sometime soon as I keep getting backlogged on the articles that I plan on writing due to the travel schedule of the past few days. So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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An International and Ecumenical Christmas Service

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was very busy but quite interesting as I had the honor of helping lead the German NATO contingent Christmas service and afterward to attend their Christmas party, complete with a visit from Saint Nikolas for the children. It was an honor to have the chance to serve my German friends. I feel so at home with Germans and tonight was another chance to serve them as a Chaplain which I have had the chance to do a number of times when stationed or visiting in Germany.

It was a wonderful experience. I was able to meet some really nice people and take part in a truly German Christmas service. There was music and the singing of Christmas carols and hymns, prayers, the reading of the Christmas story form the Gospel of Luke and I led most of the prayers and the liturgy, and preached the sermon, of course all in German. For many in attendance this was a surprise, they are not used to Americans who can do this. Truthfully I did work hard on the Sherman and quoted from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther in the sermon, while also relating it to the reality of the struggle with faith, even using the images of Charlie Brown’s Christmas and the speech of Linus in it for illustration. But the heart of the sermon focused on how God comes to us from the manger to the Cross in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and why that is so important.

After the service I was complimented by many people including one officer who commented on my truly German accent when preaching. I guess that immersion in another culture and language is the best way to learn it. I still need to do some hard work to be really fluent, especially with my terrible speech comprehension in crowed venues, but it is good to know that I don’t sound like an American when speaking German.

But any way, I might go back and retranslate my sermon back into English and post some of it here in the coming days.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves Swords and Diamonds: Hans-Ulrich Rudel and the Problem of Soldiers Serving Evil Governments

Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel was undoubtably the greatest ground attack pilot that ever lived. His record is unsurpassed by any combat pilot flying ground attack missions. According to official Luftwaffe records he flew 2350 combat missions beginning in June 1941 and ending when he led the remains of his squadron to crash land on the American occupied airfield in Kitzingen on May 8th 1945.

Born in Rosenheim Bavaria in 1916 he joined the Luftwaffe as an officer cadet. Like many of his era Rudel was an ardent Nazi. Despite that and his unrepentant admiration for Adolf Hitler his combat achievements are unmatched.

His early career was inauspicious. He was not regarded well as a pilot and spent the Polish campaign as an observer and did not take part in a combat role during the campaign in the west, the Battle of Britain or Crete in 1940 to May of 1941. Assigned to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2) Immelmann he finally saw combat in June 1941 in the Soviet Union and thereafter was almost always in combat.

Flying various models of the Ju-87 Stuka Rudel was one of two pilots credited with sinking the Soviet Battleship Marat at Kronstadt harbor near Leningrad (Petersburg) on September 23rd 1941. During the war he was never shot down by an opposing aircraft but was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery or forced to land 32 times. He destroyed over 2000 targets including 519 tanks, hundreds of other vehicles and artillery pieces, he previously mentioned Battleship Marat, several other ships, 70 anding craft, bridges, armored trains and 9 aircraft in air to air combat. His accomplishments during the latter part of the war are remarkable because of the Soviet dominance of the airspace on the Eastern Front. Losses among ground attack pilots flying the venerable Stukas were high and the fact that he flew multiple missions on a daily basis for a sustained period is unsurpassed in modern warfare.

He was critically wounded by the explosion of a 40mm anti-aircraft shell on February 8th 1945 and saved by the quick action of his observer. His right leg was amputated below the knee and despite his wound he returned to combat on March 25th 1945.

He was spent 10 month in American captivity and after his release moved to Argentina where he became a friend of the dictator Juan Peron. He returned to Germany and became active in right wing nationalist politics. He became a successful businessman but his still openly National Socialist political views kept him marginalized in the West German Bundeswehr.

However, with the threat of a Soviet armored assault across the German plain during the Cold War Rudel was tapped to assist the U.S. Air Force in the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft. Despite its ungainly appearance the A-10, known by its nickname Warthog” has proven to be one of the most successful combat aircraft produced by the United States. His writings on tactics were required reading for pilots involved with the aircraft’s development by the A-10’s lead designer Pierre Sprey.

 

Rudel was the most highly decorated officer in the Luftwaffe, holding the highest decoration awarded to anyone other than Herman Goering. Alone the holders of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, he was awarded the gold Oak Leaves.

Rudel was a remarkable pilot and combat flyer. His valor and combat accomplishments are unquestioned but his undying attachment to Nazi ideology following the war caused a scandal that claimed the careers of two Bundeswehr Luftwaffe Generals including World War Two fighter ace Walter Krupinski (197 kills) clouds his legacy. He died in 1982 admired by British and American combat pilots including the legendary British ace Douglas Bader, who did not know his political activities; as well as Germans of Nazi or right wing political leanings. As a Luftwaffe pilot he was not a part of atrocities committed by the SS or Wehrmacht and never tried as a war criminal.

In retrospect it is important to understand that Rudel’s political views were shaped by the times in which he lived and the radicalism that swept Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. Likewise it is also important to note that unlike many others who grew up during the same period like fellow Luftwaffe aces Johannes Steinhoff and Adolf Galland, Rudel never recanted his views and published a tract in the early 1950s that condemned German officers who did not wholeheartedly support Adolf Hitler. He also recommended attacking the Soviet Union in the 1950s in order to reacquire Lebensruam.  

I think it is important to be able to recognize military accomplishments but also to recognize that even valiant soldiers can serve evil governments, and some of them give their unrequited support to the evil ideology of those regimes. Thus Rudel is not alone. He stands with other Nazi, Communist, Fascist and others soldiers of totalitarianism whose valor and deeds are tainted by evil and the crimes of the regimes that they supported.

Rudel’s mixed legacy, like many from the Nazi era as well as from other nations should serve as a reminder to any soldier, sailor or airman. That warning is to always be careful to ensure that honest patriotism does not become corrupted by the ideology of those that appeal to fear, hate and revenge as the source of their power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Uncomfortable Legacy of Colonel General Ludwig Beck

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” Ludwig Beck

Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C13564,_Ludwig_BeckLudwig Beck  Bundesarchiv Foto

This is one of those uncomfortable posts to write partially because I know that some people will take it completely wrong or ascribe meaning to it that I do not intend. I by training am a military historian, probably better at that than I am theology.  One thing that fascinates me in the study of military history is the actions of men in the face of evil and the meetings of such people at the intersections of where military and government policy intersect.  It is a timeless theme. The bulk of my study until the past few years was the German Army, particularly that of the Weimar Republic and the Wehrmacht to include policies, leaders, political attitudes and behavior in war and peace. Thus it makes sense for me to look at Colonel General Ludwig Beck who held the post of Chief of the German General Staff during the early part of the Nazi era.

Ludwig Beck is one of those characters in military history that makes professional military officers uncomfortable.  Beck is not the perfect example of righteousness nor was he always correct in things that he supported.  As an artillery regiment commander he defended the rights of soldiers and officers to be Nazi Party members though he himself was not one.  He, like many military officers was a conservative military officer by nature and became Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht in 1935 two years after Hitler’s ascension to power.  Taking office Beck was troubled by some Nazi policies but not by the need for Germany to expand to areas that it had once controlled, he opposed the plan to attack Czechoslovakia not because of any love for the Czech state which he desired to be eliminated, but rather it being a war that Germany could not win. He resigned from his position a Chief of Staff in 1938 when he could not persuade the rest of the General Staff to resign in protest over Hitler’s plan which he felt would be disastrous for Germany.  Had the western powers led by Neville Chamberlain not caved at Munich it is likely that the Germans would have suffered badly against the Czech army and fortifications and with the entry of France into the war would have suffered a defeat that would have ended the Hitler regime.  In fact German officers who saw the extent of Czech preparations on the frontier following the Munich deal were greatly relieved that they did not have to fight their way into the Czech state.

After his resignation Beck played a key role in the resistance movement. He was involved in the planning for a number of attempts on Hitler’s life. Yet it was his leadership in the July 20th 1944 attempt on the life of Hitler that ensured his place in history.  With Colonel Klaus Von Stauffenberg and others in the General Staff at the Front and in Germany he acted to avert further destruction in Europe and the certain destruction of Germany.  The plot, Operation Valkyrie was marred by poor execution and failed to kill Hitler of seize power but for a few hours. The planners had left too much to chance and once Hitler had restored communications the coup attempted ended swiftly.  Had the attempt succeeded Beck was in line to become either the leader of Germany or the Head of the Army.  Instead while being interrogated after his capture he took his own life depriving Nazi leaders of the ability to put him up for a public trial at which he would have been humiliated and then executed.  The Kasserne in Sonthofen where the Bundeswehr MP School and Staff School as well as NATO and EU military schools are located is named for him.  It is there, ironically a former Adolf Hitler School that his memory and sacrifice is honored by the nation which emerged from the rubble of World War Two.  He is honored in a small museum and with a plaque recognizing his sacrifice.

492Ludwig Beck Kasserne Sonthofen

The reason that General Beck makes many of us in uniform uncomfortable (and I do include myself) is that he recognized that senior officers, especially those in high command who help set and execute policy cannot isolate themselves in the purely military aspects of the operations.  Instead he believed that officers have a higher duty to the constitution and people and not just the military mission that they have been assigned.  When he realized that he could not stop Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia he resigned and worked in the obscurity of a small and often divided resistance movement against Hitler.  The bulk of the German high command, including many officers idolized in the United States did not recognize the higher duty. Many of these men were consummate professionals who did not support the evil of the Nazi regime and who conducted themselves honorably. Yet they effectively abetted its crimes by not opposing actions of their government that were against international law and morality as well as dangerous from purely a pragmatic military standpoint.

The problem is that military officers in any nation, including ours can face situations such as Beck faced.  A military’s character is demonstrated in how leaders deal with such situations.  Beck recognized the situation early, the bulk of his fellow officers did not recognize a problem until Germany was embroiled in a war that it could no longer win.  Even then most could not mount an opposition to Hitler because they did not want to be considered to be mutineers and violate their oath.  The potential to abet evil when military professionals bury their heads by planning and executing purely military aspects of a campaign is great.  If they ignore questionable policy or even policies that they know that have been judged by the international community to be illegal or immoral, such as torture of prisoners or waging wars of aggression against countries that have not attacked their nation they become complicit in their nations crimes.  This was the case with German Officers who may not have committed any personal crime and even tried to mitigate the evils of the Nazi regime were morally complicit in that evil.

In the United States the military shows its fidelity by remembering our oath to the Constitution and being faithful to it and the people that we serve.  As officers we represent all Americans and not just those of our political party, religious faith or social or economic interests, nor any political leader, faction or interest group within the nation. The Constitution, our military regulations, traditions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice are the standard by which we operate and by which we conduct ourselves and tools that protect us when policies or actions taken by the government or people within it violate those codes or international law.  The UCMJ makes it clear those officers who take part in, plan or a complicit in illegal actions in war are committing crimes.

When a nation become involved in wars which are non-traditional, revolutionary wars or insurgencies that barriers to professional conduct can be broken down. The Mai Lai massacre committed by 2LT William Calley’s platoon with the certain knowledge and maybe even approval of individuals in the chain of command is one example as were the uncontrolled chaos of prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib.

Times are difficult and we do not know what the future brings.  Stress in societies caused by economic conditions, natural disasters, lawlessness on the streets and divided and ineffective governments sometimes remove the moral restraints of the society and even affect the military.  One sees this in Weimar Germany as well as the 4th Republic in France which had to deal with post World War II economic difficulties, exacerbated by recriminations of political opponents for actions the others did during the war while France was occupied by Germany as well as the wars in Indo-China and Algeria which further divided the nation and the military.

It is in stressful and uncertain times that officers have to be men and women of principle who always uphold the highest traditions of their military as well as be the voice of conscience when governments, political parties, special interests or leaders begin to violate international norms in the conduct of war. Beck was not a perfect officer. He supported some of Hitler’s policies until after his resignation but like much of the resistance believed that the Nazi regime could only end up destroying Germany.  It is important to remember that like Ludwig Beck that officers do not need to sacrifice their honor to be faithful to their oath.

Peace, Steve+

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